Second Reading

Part of Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympic Games) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:33 pm on 24th April 2012.

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Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 7:33 pm, 24th April 2012

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate Sunday Trading in connection with the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Games begin in just over three months and, on all sides of the House, we are determined to make a success of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Both occasions will draw a significant number of visitors from home and abroad to the events themselves, to our tourist attractions, to our pubs and restaurants, and also to our shops.

This is an opportunity for our runners, swimmers and cyclists to showcase their talents. They will be seeking to emulate the achievements of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and of the other distinguished Olympians and Paralympians in this House. It is also an occasion to show the rest of the world that the UK is open for business. We will be showcasing everything that the UK has to offer at a time when the world's attention is on us, and that includes our retail sector. The Games offer a unique chance for everyone to sample the UK's superb retail outlets. We have to do everything we can to fully exploit this unique opportunity in a way that fits with the schedule of the Games.

At present, however, the Sunday Trading Act 1994 limits the opening times on Sundays of certain shops with a relevant floor area of more than 3,000 square feet. In particular, the Act restricts them to opening on a Sunday for a maximum six-hour period between 10 am and 6 pm. Just imagine the situation: it is the evening of Sunday 5 August, at 10 pm, and Usain Bolt has just won the 100 metre final; or a week earlier, on Sunday 29 July, and Becky Adlington has just set a new record in the 400 metres freestyle. Thousands of spectators, pumped up with pride and with the Olympic spirit, stream out of the stadium to purchase their souvenirs or their celebratory Olympic mascot, only to find that a host of shops are in fact closed. Under the current rules, only shops of up to 3,000 square feet are open. One square foot over that and they are closed, unless of course they are in a specially exempt sector. Try explaining that to visitors from Germany, Russia, China, India or Japan, let alone the millions of British spectators at the Games, or think about the thousands of spectators at big screens up and down the country who will not be able to do their regular Sunday shopping before or after these events. That is why my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that we will remove this restriction during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, starting on Sunday 22 July and concluding on 9 September.

The Bill that we are discussing today will give shops the opportunity, should they wish to take it, to open for longer to make the most of the economic benefits of the Games. It presents retailers with a chance to increase sales, shop workers with a chance to earn some extra money, consumers the flexibility to shop when they want to and it could help to increase temporary employment. It will be good for the Games and good for the economy in these challenging times.

I recognise that the use of the fast-track procedure for this Bill is not ideal. However, I believe that exceptional use of this procedure is justified given the imminence of the Games. We do not want hundreds of thousands of visitors to be welcomed to the UK with closed signs across our shopping centres, and not just here in London.